Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Completing the puzzle

If you have ever done a jigsaw puzzle you know the hard work is at the beginning when you have a box full of pieces and pictures. Most of the time, the task of putting the puzzle together gets easier as the pieces fill in and you have more places to match the remaining pieces. Often, at the end you are racing to fill in the vacant spaces and finish the puzzle. Genealogy is NOT like doing a jigsaw puzzle. In fact, it is the exact opposite.

With a jigsaw puzzle, you almost always have a picture of the completed item before you start. You can refer to the picture to give you hints where to go and what to look for next. In genealogy, the "picture," an empty pedigree chart, is pretty grim. There are no hints of colors or textures to let you start categorizing your family members so they fit in the appropriate spot. But there is one thing about genealogy that is similar to completing the puzzle, I feel an urgency as I get to the last little piece.

What I have frequently noticed, however, is that too many researchers never finish the puzzle. It is like having the entire puzzle completed on the table and then walking away when there are just a few pieces left. What do I mean by this? Far too often, I see entries in family records that look like these:

C. A. Peterson, Ohio abt. 1857
Ronald P. Steinway, New York.
Eldon, Greenwich, Conn.

Maybe the first person's name really was "C. A." instead of Charles Allen or whatever, but when a pedigree is full of such incomplete entries, it is obvious the person left the blank spaces on purpose, or ran out of time before the died, but in many, many instances, it is simply sloppy research.

Yesterday, I went to the dentist and the hygienist started a short conversation. I mentioned I was a genealogist (my current answer) and she immediately asked me, "Oh, how far back have you traced your family?" I realize that this is the most common perception of genealogy, but it still rankles my soul. The real question should be, "How carefully and completely have you documented your family with real sources?" 

So how about you? Do you complete the puzzle? Oh, but you say, "I have been looking for that particular piece for years and it is still blank." But I answer, yes, but you have a lot of blanks and maybe that indicates something. There is always another record someplace you have not looked at yet. Maybe, you need to go back over your pedigree and look at the missing puzzle pieces again. Maybe, just maybe, the answer to some of the blanks has been staring at you all along.

Every day, we hear about millions of records going "online." It is only reasonable that all this additional information may contain the piece you are looking for.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed this is THE moat common response. I would really like to not be polite and say "like I care!" What I usually say is "I prefer to learn as much as I can about who they were and how they lived". Implicit in that is getting all the details and getting the details correct!